More opinions on opinions

Here we are for part II.

Dan Gillmor talks about the need for transparency. I gave my predictable spiel (below). Vaughn Ververs said it’s too hard to keep up with being transparent and it’s not as simple as a label and I agree with that but when it’s relevant it’s worth it, I think.

Hugh Hewitt says people want to be able to navigate about fixed point and big media doesn’t reveal those fixed points. He said he spoke to a class at Columbia and asked a list of questions about issues and with one exception they were all on the hard left. “You’re all going to deny that it matters to your audience but that’s why you’re losing your audience… If you’re not going to tell your audience they’re not going to trust you.” Landman objects and says they are not losing audience. Merrill Brown says he will not let “the spin of the newspaper industry go unchallenged.”

David Carr says that in spite of Times editor Bill Keller’s efforts at openness, the Times is not transparent. That is, before the assignment, a reporter with a conflict will not be assigned to the story that may touch that conflict. He answered my smoking shtick saying that he smokes but he was in favor of the smoking ban and he’s confident he could write a story about a smoking ban down the middle. “At a certain point, people have to trust the brand, have to trust the standards, have to trust the mediation.”

Dvorkin says to Hugh, “you’re describing a world without editors.” He talks about reporters assigned to troubled spots in the world who eventually go native and quit to become advocates. And he says he tells them they should not be journalists if they care that passionately about an issue.

Peter Hart of FAIR says that the background of personal stances does not matter next to the product itself.

Hugh Hewitt says, as a lawyer, that this is contrary to the standard of evidence. In a trial, an expert must give their background so the jury may judge what they say. “Journalism wants nothing of those rules of evidence. They don’t want confrontation…. Mainstream media is so removed from the rules of evidence” that they are losing credibility.

Jim Brady answers the metaphor says the one person in the courtroom who’s not questioned is the judge. Nice touch. The implication is that journalists are the judge. I say that’s not the case. The public is the judge.

Dan says he is arguing more for institutional transparency than individual transparency.

Vaughn Ververs says that what is important about transparency is the willingness to defend and explain a story. Well said.

Jon Landman says he comes out where Dan does and that I “apply transparency in a mechanical way that’s not terribly helpful.” True. I apply it somewhat symbolically, culturally. Landman says that papers need to do a better job of transparency and that this is also about the process, about journalism as a team sport.

Jay Rosen brings up the NSA story as a case where transparency comes to the rub. The story was held at first out of concern of harm to national security but then released and Jay says he wants to know what went into that decision. Landman says that Keller explained that it was not released because of concerns about sources. Jay says this is where the limit of transparency — Landman agrees — but Jay asks whether Keller needs to be more transparent to be trusted.

Hugh says the brand has become a collection of bylines. He asked his audience the night before what they should say today and an emailer said to tell this table “we don’t trust them.” He acknowledges that the people who call into a talk show are self-selecting anyway, “they’re props” (much laughter; insert irony).

Heyward asks whether transparency is an answer to the issue of trust. “I would just answer questions.” He complains that Keller would not come on his show. That, he says, is hiding and that leads to the belief that you have something to hide.

Vaughn says he’s now hearing the same complaints about the media from the left that he had long heard it from the right: the media are the creatures of corporate interests that protect power.

Brady says that we all agree that transparency but we disagree about whether we want it to be back-end or front-end — that is, before or after the story. Peter Hart says that perhaps the issue is more responsiveness than just transparency.

Someone says that people don’t hear their view reflected in what they see and hear on TV. That’s because we present the country as hard blue or hard red and that’s not where the country is; the people are more nuanced. The issue is not balancing out the ends but including the middle. Amen.

Carr said it’s important that Bush came in saying that he didn’t buy the argument that the press is a proxy for the American people. He says he met Bill Clinton once and he spoke to Carr for 20 minutes about the Times being cowed by the right. “These people understand power,” he said.

Jay says that Dana Milbank of the Washington Post loves it when people from both the left and right are screaming at you it is journalists’ indication of balance. He says it is possible, just possible, that they’re both yelling at you maybe there’s a reason you’re doing something wrong. I’ll get this wrong but Jay says we have a situation where one party, the Republicans, attack the press and the press decides not to attack back and then the left goes after you for that. The result is more dissatisfaction and anger.

Dvorkin says there is a notion he hears that the media should operate at the loyal opposition and he questions that, especially because the opposition party is also being criticized for not taking that role.

Dan Gillmor says the most important thing to do is to listen. Dvorkin says that people are grateful when they get access, “and then they get mad.” Landman says the most underused asset is the public. “The more we can use the intelligence and the knowledge of those people the better our information will be… Simply opening the door is not the best way to do that. We need more sophisticated means.”

Merrill Brown says that inviting the public in before is important — why doesn’t a health reporter have a health blog to llisten.

Amanda Congdon says that whether you talk about transparency or responsiveness “it’s not optional.” Andrew asks what the value of rich worldwide news resources is important to the next generation of news consumers. Amanda replies that if they don’t seem interested it’s because news is presented in a condescending way. This, she says, is why they turn to blogs.

Vaughn brings up the old saw that what the bloggers talk about is the news the big guys produce. Dan Gillmor says that’s simplistic; there are blogs that are doing reporting but in more focused areas than big media can afford.